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Bullying creeps up on you long before you are aware of what is really going on. It is a gradual, corrosive form of chronic abuse that makes people feel shamed and inadequate, not just at work, but often in their home lives as well. Most bullying is not physical violence. It is psychological, and frequently covert, which makes it hard to spot at first.

Obvious examples include:

  • Direct violence or insults
  • Labelling or name-calling
  • Sexual or racial slurs
  • Demeaning or ridiculing jokes
  • Excluding or ignoring you
  • Taking random disciplinary action against you

But there are subtler forms. Bullying by managers can include:

  • Intrusive supervision
  • Blocking promotion or training opportunities
  • Setting impossible deadlines
  • Giving you menial or trivial tasks
  • Refusing holiday time

Sadly, colleagues are capable of inflicting appalling damage by:

  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Deliberately undermining you in front of your boss
  • Withholding information to make you look stupid
  • Less obvious forms of sexual harassment
  • Excluding you from work or social events


Broadly stated, bullying represents the use of position, status or power to coerce others by fear, persecution or threat. It can also take many forms. It can be directed at an individual or at a group. It can happen face to face, or it can take place in writing or via e-mail, text messages or websites.

Bullying in the workplace

It is estimated that over half the population has experienced or witnessed bullying at one time or another.

A bully or a strong manager?

Crucially, it can be very difficult to discriminate between bullying and a pro-active management style.

How bad is it?

If you’re an employee, bullying could wreck your career. If you’re an employer, it could cost you your company.

What are the effects of bullying?

Because bullying thrives in a culture of fear, it is not readily discussed between colleagues.

What should I do?

There is a tremendous amount you can do in response to bullying, long before you ever need to reach a court-room.

Name it. As we have seen, bullying is often covert, gradual, and hard to identify. If you are feeling constantly got at and criticised, even though you know your work is as good as it always was; if you’re beginning to question yourself and doubt your own abilities, despite no evidence to back that up; if you are feeling targeted and alone, you need to realise what is going on.

Do not isolate. Bullies thrive on paranoia. If you allow yourself to become separated and silenced, the effects of the abuse will be much, much worse. Talk to colleagues to see if they are experiencing the same treatment. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, make an appointment to see your company HR manager or call the 24-hour Adviceline. You could also talk to your trade union representative, a health and safety officer, or an equal opportunities adviser.

Talk to friends and family for emotional support. Seek counselling if you are feeling overwhelmed or would like to discuss the situation with an independent and neutral party.

Avoid direct confrontation. Despite the traditional wisdom that bullies need to be confronted, it is normally best to steer clear of the perpetrator. Confrontation will often enrage a tyrannical figure. Avoid situations where you are alone with the bully.

Value yourself. Remember that bullies are cowards who, for the most part, target people who they feel threatened by. If you are being bullied, it may be because you are an above average performer. Whatever the reason for the abuse, though, it is the bully who has already lost; not you.

Keep a record of your work. Get a copy of your contract and terms of reference to check that you have been meeting all your work obligations. Keep copies of your appraisals and all other documentation related to your ability to do your job.

Document the abuse. Keep a private log of dates and details of incidents and try and get witnesses to these events. Also keep a record of letters, e-mails, faxes and text messages that may be deemed abusive.

Know the policy. Find out if your employer has a policy and procedures on harassment and bullying and obtain a copy. Follow the company grievance procedure.

Do not take action alone. Make sure you have discussed your case with all the relevant parties before moving ahead.

Stay safe. If, as a last resort, you feel that you really want to leave your job, do not view that as a failure. It can be a positive decision to take control of your life and leave behind a toxic environment that what was not doing you any good.

Need to talk someone in confidence?

Call Police Care UK on 0300 012 0030

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